Brandon Saad (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
Columbus scored with Saad, while Buffalo got a crucial piece in O'Reilly. But the Sabres doled out a pretty penny for their new center – was it too much for a player that has never scored 30 goals?
The contracts came in within minutes of each other and both came with big dollar amounts. Columbus signed new left winger Brandon Saad to a six-year, $36 million contract, while Buffalo extended recently acquired center Ryan O'Reilly for seven years at $7.5 million per season. Let's walk through the sticker shock.
To begin with Saad, the $6 million is interesting because Artem Anisimov and Marko Dano – two of the players acquired from Columbus for Saad in the recent blockbuster trade – will make almost that much combined in 2016-17. But the key for Chicago was this upcoming season, where cap space is tighter (Anisimov recently signed a more lucrative extension himself for '16-17). In fact, the Hawks still need to ship bodies out.
So Columbus made the best of a former division rival's bad situation, getting Saad for – let's face it – a lot of money, but not a crazy amount given the talent and upside we've seen in the strong left winger. Saad looks like a perfect fit for a top-line assignment next to rising star center Ryan Johansen and the erstwhile Hawk has already proven he can hang with the best in the game thanks to his time riding shotgun with Jonathan Toews. I'm not saying RyJo's at that level, but he's a pretty good young player and both he and Saad will only be 23 next season. The peak years are coming.
O'Reilly's extension is a bit more harrowing. Paying $7.5 million a year for a player who has never scored 30 goals and never hit 65 points sounds daunting, though to be fair, a good portion of his job is keeping the other team off the board with his shutdown prowess. I do like how Buffalo is set up down the middle for the next eight years now: O'Reilly takes on the other team's top lines, while Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart are allowed to flourish offensively away from the hardest pressure. And considering both those young bucks can also kill penalties, O'Reilly won't have to be weighted down with all the hard ice time.
Also helping out GM Tim Murray's cap management is the fact Eichel and Reinhart won't be due raises until 2018-19, at which point current veterans could be replaced if need be (though who knows if the cap will have gone up or down at that point).
So O'Reilly's pact is heavy, but it works for this particular franchise right now. Is it weird that he'll be making more than John Tavares? Yes. Is it odd that almost all of his money will come in the form of signing bonuses and that technically his base salary is $1 million per season, thus largely shielding him from league escrow (which can't be subtracted from bonuses)? Totally.
But if team and player are happy with the fine print – something that rarely happened with O'Reilly in Colorado – then it's hard to argue with the result.